Five Next Gen J.League Players to Watch in 2024

Five Next Gen J.League Players to Watch in 2024

The J.League is the hub of Japanese football development, with every player on the national team coming through a J.League club and making their professional debut in the domestic league.

With Samurai Blue stars impressing on the highest stage in Europe, interest has ignited in the J.League as a talent incubator, so it's only fitting that we take a look at a handful of Next Gen J.League stars to watch ahead of the 2024 season.

Kuryu Matsuki - FC Tokyo

Matsuki is the reigning AFC Youth Player of the Year, so he enters 2024 with high expectations, but that is nothing new for him. The FC Tokyo man has had those thrust upon him for years and he’s delivered at every stage so far.

The tenacious midfielder brings a little bit of everything to the center of the pitch and FC Tokyo now rely on him to keep the team ticking. The capital club made some big signings in the winter and are hoping to progress well into the top half of the table, but everyone added was brought in with the idea that they would work around the marvelous Matsuki in the middle.

The Japan U-20 captain may earn his Samurai Blue debut soon and European clubs have chased him before, but before he takes those steps up, winning big at FC Tokyo is the goal for the 20-year-old wunderkind.

Sota Kawasaki - Kyoto Sanga F.C.

Kawasaki followed up his first Meiji Yasuda J1 League season with an even better one in 2023. His ball-winning was off the charts as he shined for Kyoto Sanga and led them to a 13th-place finish, the club’s best in the first division since 2009.

Kawasaki’s rise is not a surprise. He’s long been touted as one of Japan’s brightest prospects and he’s delivering on that promise with a physical and mature game that belies his age.

The 22-year-old was so good last year that Hajime Moriyasu gave him his first call to the senior national team in June. He didn’t make his Samurai Blue debut, but he certainly will before long.

Riku Yamane - Yokohama F·Marinos

The most difficult thing for a young player to adjust to at the highest levels is the physicality and pressing, but that was never a problem for Yamane. The defensive midfielder was a star on the ball even as a teenager, able to handle whatever pressure opposing teams threw at him. Even Manchester City couldn’t rattle the Yokohama F·Marinos midfielder.

That calm, technique and strength is what the 20-year-old academy product brings to the table and why Marinos trusted him to play important minutes even in the middle of a title race.

Kota Takai - Kawasaki Frontale

Though they had a difficult J1 season last year, Kawasaki Frontale continue to make a name for themselves as a club that produces talent, sells abroad, and then replenishes their ranks with young stars like Takai.

The center back was magnificent in his first full season in the senior team, playing over 1,500 minutes and showing no signs of being overwhelmed by the stage. He handled the strength of opposing strikers, used great recovery speed and read the game beautifully to look like a player well beyond his years.

The 19-year-old is now expected to be the heart of the Frontale defense as they aim to add even more silverware to the Emperor’s Cup title that Takai and the squad picked up in December.

The young star has already got one under his belt this season as he helped keep a clean sheet against Vissel Kobe in his team's Fujifilm Super Cup 2024 victory.

Jumpei Hayakawa - Urawa Reds

Urawa Reds had four competitions last season and dreams of competing to win each one of them so it speaks to how highly the club thinks of Hayakawa that they brought him into the first team at just 17 years old with so much on the line.

Hayakawa scored his first goal in April, making him Urawa’s youngest-ever goal scorer in a J.League competition and later that month he was playing in the AFC Champions League final, which the Reds would go onto win.

To say that Urawa have high expectations for Hayakawa would be an understatement. He is a tantalizing winger, who promises to bring a threat both looking at goal and creating for others.

Few young domestic attacking prospects hold the potential of Hayakawa and it will be a thrill to watch him for the Reds this season, even at just 18 years old.